Tag Archives: Christmas

Making Merry

As a divorced parent, away from my family of origin, many of my Christmases have been spent mostly alone. That’s not as pathetic as it sounds: I’ve had my children for at least part of the holidays, I’ve never felt deprived. I’ve always managed to have friends over, or be invited for a holiday dinner in return, or just spend Christmas with my dog and Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata. For many years I sang in a church choir, so my primary celebration was to stay up very late Christmas Eve singing at the midnight mass.

I am no longer religious, and although I had a couple of “bah humbug” years, I love the holidays again. Who can’t get behind peace on earth and good will to all? Not to mention presents, rum-based beverages, delicious pastries, and turkey gravy?

Whether alone or with friends and family, I always find time for a Christmas Day walk. I love taking a walk on a day when most businesses are closed. Everything is quiet and peaceful. When I lived in a less populous place with real winter, crunching on some new fallen snow made the day even more special, and the few people I encountered were quick to acknowledge me (and I in return) with a cheery “Merry Christmas!”

Tori and Ken at False Creek

Getting our friendly on during our Christmas Day stroll.

Christmas walks in Vancouver have proved to be a different experience. Last year, my first with Ken, we lived in Marpole, and took our dog out for a walk by the river and didn’t encounter anyone (must have been early in the morning). This year, we live near False Creek, and the seawall was its usual busy place with walkers, runners, cyclists, baby strollers, and dogs. For the first half of our walk, I kept expecting lots of “Merry Christmases,” a shared acknowledgement of this special, quiet, low-key holiday. I smiled at people, ready with my greeting, but nope. No one wanted to meet my gaze. Everyone was in the same urban bubble they always are.

Halfway through our walk, I took it upon myself to break the bubble. I told Ken I was going to say “Merry Christmas” to everyone we encountered.

So I did. I wasn’t really expecting anyone to say it in return – just offering my Christmas cheer. I felt a little embarrassed to be transgressing the urban social etiquette, but I did it anyway.

Some people ignored me, some clearly heard but didn’t acknowledge me, but most people seemed pleased at being startled out of their bubble. It was great to see faces light up with a smile and, sometimes, a “Merry Christmas to you!” Especially the people walking alone.

What I have found living in a city (unlike a smaller place, like Regina or Nanaimo) is that social niceties like greeting strangers is exhausting because of the sheer number of people out and about. Dense population makes for further isolation in the same way that too many choices in a grocery store can paralyse a shopper with indecision. It’s too overwhelming, so we put in our headphones and escape.

On the other hand, making the effort to connect on a human level, giving someone a greeting and possibly making their day brighter, makes the urban experience much less overwhelming. I was energized by our Christmas Day walk, and it felt good to spread some cheer.

I don’t have the energy to greet every single stranger in Vancouver each day, but I bet I can give three-to-five “hellos” most days I’m here, and raise the “merry” quotient a little bit higher.

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The best moments are unscripted

Tonight I invited my daughter (age 19), her boyfriend (age 21) and my son (age 24) and our dog Sophie (who lives with my son) over to trim the tree. My vision was a peaceful evening listening to A Charlie Brown Christmas and other favourites while putting up the decorations.

Christmas tree 2013

The young adult energy had something different planned. First, daughter and boyfriend didn’t arrive until almost 8, by which time my son was ensconced in front of Netflix watching the U.K. version of The Office. Then, the soundtrack for the evening became YouTube videos of A Peter Griffin Christmas and Kevin Bloody Wilson holiday songs. (Google them yourself, I won’t link to them from here!)

The only thing to do was to be so utterly grateful for their presence and their joie de vivre.

I did manage to call for a moment of quiet when we put up the angel – I’ve had her ever since the first Christmas after I lost Sarah.

It’s a cute little tree, not very big, but it’s ours and it was decorated with love by me, Mary, Cam and Aidan.

 

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Searching for peace with the Christmas season

Don’t even talk to me about Christmas decorations, Christmas music and Christmas parties before Novemer 25th. I’ve been feeling blows to the head by the holiday behemoth since before Remembrance Day and I’m already tired of it.

It’s expensive, it’s fraught with expectations, how-tos, obligatory receptions, parties, gift-giving, specialized appetizers, too much booze and fake cheeriness.

Bah humbug.

No really – it is a great big commercial free-for-all, the one time of the year when our self-control (in spending and eating) and discipline (in getting exercise and taking care of our inner selves) is challenged. Big time.

I know some people just love Christmas (er – the holidays…) and I say good for them. I’ll gladly attend at least some of their parties and have a good time. I’m grateful for their hospitality and the fellowship it affords. I’m not averse to connecting with loved ones and having fun.

However, for me this is the most stressful time of year. I take consolation in the fact that I’m not alone (but contrary to popular belief, there is no spike in suicides this time of year).

I’m worried I am expected to return the hospitality and I just don’t work that way. For me, as a single gal prone to depression, the holidays are a minefield I must navigate. As a person who’s got three children, one grandchild, too much debt and one income, it’s difficult and exhausting to live up to the seasonal expectations.

In previous years I had an automatic Christmas fund savings plan set up at work, but then I changed jobs in March. Had I only read this article in July – “just a little bit of forethought right now can save you a ton of time, effort, cost, and heartache this December,” and worked through this holiday tracking sheet. I pride myself on being organized – but unfortunately I wasn’t that prescient this year

It’s not just the expense, it’s the stress of not living up to the big happy family myth. I stopped visiting my parental units at holiday time years ago – why deal with family drama when it’s cheaper and easier to get together at a less stressful time of year?

In fact, there is a picture somewhere in my mother’s possession of a 12-year-old Tori on Christmas morning curled up in my new beanbag chair with a new book, completely oblivious to everything else going on around me.

Truthfully, I’d rather just hole up somewhere by myself, read a book by a fireplace, pump Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata through my iTunes to my heart’s content for a couple of weeks until it all blows over.

So I’m of two minds about going back home to Saskatchewan for the holidays this year. the best part: I get to see my grandson! Besides, the timing seems convenient – it’s the time of year when work slows down, school is out and nearly everyone takes off anyway.

On the other hand – I’m anxious about it. I’ll travel on the busiest airline day of the year, navigate Regina streets in the middle of winter, compete with a large “coodle” of Grandmas and Grandpas surrounding little Oliver that includes two ex-husbands. Yes two – they’re both, along with their Significant Others, very involved in my children’s lives, and then there’s my daughter’s husband’s family. It’s a good thing for my daughter and grandchild and we all get along great. But still – there’s a reason I’m not married to these men anymore, right?

That’s a a lot going on for someone who would rather curl up with a book and enjoy the quiet in the midst of chaos. Maybe I will get that Kindle for Christmas after all … and whatever happened to that beanbag chair?

Sometime between now and Dec 23, I’ll have to reach some kind of detente with Christmas, at least for this year.

“Terrified” Christmas photo by Rumpleteaser; “Christmas Story” leg lamp photo by Kevin Dooley, both licensed under Creative Commons.

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